Private Dem talks on major bills more positive than public appearances, Rep. Yarmuth says

For more on Democrats' plans and negotiations over the infrastructure and reconciliation bills, Amna Nawaz is joined by the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And for more on the Democrats' plans now, I'm joined by the chairman of the House Budget Committee. That is Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky.

    Mr. Chairman, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Always good to see you.

  • Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY):

    Thank you. Thanks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's talk about those two big economic bills, the infrastructure bill, the reconciliation bill.

    They had been moving through together. Speaker Pelosi decoupled them. You have some of your colleagues, progressive colleagues, calling that a betrayal. Do you agree with that?

  • Rep. John Yarmuth:

    No, it's not a betrayal.

    I mean, what we're trying to do is navigate a very, very precarious waterway right now, where we have no margin in either the House or Senate. We can lose three votes in the House, no votes in the Senate. And we have some differences of opinion about how we can get these two major initiatives done.

    The good news is two things. One is, both the moderates and the progressives — I'm a progressive — both groups want to get both of them done. And the second thing is, they're both overwhelmingly popular with the American people. And if I might add a third, these things are both things that we absolutely have to do to serve the country well, to serve the American people.

    So I'm convinced that, ultimately, we will get them done. We will compromise. There's always compromise. I never doubt Nancy Pelosi's ability to, again, navigate these very precarious waters.

    But, again, I think all those factors mean we will get them done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Congressman, I guess the question is, how? How do you navigate that tough path? In what order do they move through, and how quickly?

  • Rep. John Yarmuth:

    Well, I think what's going to happen in the next 48 hours — and the good news is that nobody will remember that I said this.


  • Rep. John Yarmuth:

    But I think that, over the next 48 hours, there are going to be enough agreements reached on the specifics of what will go into the Build Back Better Act, which is the larger bill — that's the partisan bill — and that the moderates will — that the progressives will say, OK, we're confident enough that we can support the infrastructure bill.

    Remember, if one goes down, they both go down. I think that's kind of the eternal truth here that we're dealing with. And I feel good about the fact that, really, they're — we're only talking about eight to 10 Democrats who are really laying down the red lines.

    And I think we will overcome that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But you need many of those eight to 10 Democrats.

    So I'm curious why you think…

  • Rep. John Yarmuth:

    We need virtually all of them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … with the language we have been seeing, why you think those Democrats, those progressive Democrats, would be willing to basically take a leap of faith, right?

    You're saying that they would sign on to the infrastructure bill with enough assurances that what they want will be in that reconciliation bill. Is that what you see happening?

  • Rep. John Yarmuth:

    I think the — this is a question of good faith right now.

    And there — I think there is a question of — on both sides as to whether it's good faith. But I have heard conversations behind the scenes and on the staff level. And I don't think the positions are nearly as rigid as what we're seeing and hearing in the public arena.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So you're saying what we hear from Senator Sanders, for example, as my colleague Lisa just reported, telling House Democrats to vote against the infrastructure bill, that there's a different message being delivered behind closed doors?

  • Rep. John Yarmuth:


    And, for instance, Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Progressive Caucus, she's acted very responsibly throughout this message. And, yes, she's advocating very strongly for her priorities and the priorities of the Progressive Caucus, but she's left enough of the door open to allow her to say, OK, we believe that we can get both of these done. We will go again and not kill — we will go ahead and not kill the bipartisan bill on Thursday if it comes up for a vote on Thursday, which the speaker has said it would.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Just to follow up on that, you said an if there.

    Do you still think that vote will happen on Thursday?

  • Rep. John Yarmuth:

    The last word I got from the speaker was yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    OK, we will take that on this day at this time.

    I got to ask you about this two other major things that you have to deal with on your plate right now. That is government funding and raising the debt ceiling. Republicans, we should remind folks, have blocked that bill that would do both.

    And you have got some looming deadlines. So what's the plan.

  • Rep. John Yarmuth:

    We sure do. We sure do.

    Well, we're going to pass, probably tomorrow, a continuing resolution. Republicans in the Senate have said they would support it. So I think we will get that done before — before the deadline on Thursday night.

    As for the debt ceiling, we have, according to Secretary Yellen, the Treasury secretary somewhere around the 18th of October. So we have some time.

    What I'm hoping will happen — we're going to pass on the next couple of days what we call a clean debt limit suspension, which means there's nothing else on it. And what this will do will be to put Senate Republicans in a very interesting spot, because there's no way they can hide their vote. They will be voting to default on the full faith and credit of the United States.

    I don't think that's where anybody in Congress wants to be. And my senator Mitch McConnell, who has bizarrely said we absolutely have to raise the debt limit, but I'm not going to help you do it and neither will Republicans, to me, that's kind of like a mother saying, yes, I know, my baby needs to have food to eat, but I'm not going to feed her. I'm going to rely on the nasty woman across the street.

    And it's just an amazingly irresponsible position to take. But I think, ultimately, one option is — and I hope this is the case — that at least 10, Republican senators are sane enough to say, we're not going to let the nation default, we will break ranks with Republican leadership and help the Democrats pass the suspension of the debt limit.

    If not, we will probably have to resort to a reconciliation motion, a resolution that will take some time. It generally takes at least 10 days, probably two weeks, to get done. We will do it on our own.

    The other option, which is the one that makes the most sense, is we put this bill up to suspend the debt limit, and then Republicans just don't filibuster in the Senate. So they get their wish. Democrats will raise the debt limit or suspend the debt limit by themselves, no Republican help. Just don't filibuster. That's all the — there's actually a pretty easy solution here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let me ask you about that path ahead if you have to move without Republican support, because Mitch McConnell has said Republicans — Republicans are unified in their opposition to raising the debt ceiling.

    It was just a week ago you said that you didn't have enough time for Democrats to be able to move ahead without Republican support to raise that debt ceiling limit. Janet Yellen saying October 18.

    Do you have enough time?

  • Rep. John Yarmuth:

    It's close.

    Again, it's a 10-to-14 day process. And so if we started it Monday, which — whatever that day is, the 3rd or 4th — that's, yes, I think the 4th — then that gives us — yes, if we can get it done in two weeks, that's right up against the limit.

    It is really playing with fire. And we have already seen some of the havoc that can be created by this. We saw the Dow Jones average plunge 500 points today. The market is very volatile right now. Bond rates are changing because of the uncertainty.

    So, we really — we really need to do this. Listen, it's — it would be unprecedented. We have never defaulted on our debt now in 100 years since this debt ceiling was put into the law. We need to get rid of the law, actually.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's a lot to follow on Capitol Hill. We know it's a busy day for you. We appreciate you making the time.

    That is Congressman John Yarmuth, Democrat from Kentucky, chair of the House Budget Committee, joining us. Thank you, sir.

  • Rep. John Yarmuth:

    You're welcome. Thank you.

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